Have you ever heard of the “Peter Principle”? It’s the idea that in any business people get promoted based on their success at the job they’re currently in. This advancement only stops when they reach a level where they don’t excel anymore. They have gone beyond the place where they were competent, thus getting stuck at their level of incompetence.
This principle is based on the notion that success in one area does not necessarily correspond to success in other areas. This is how bad leaders are made, getting promoted to a position they just aren’t qualified for.
For example, just because someone is a good salesperson doesn’t mean that they can lead a sales team.
Take a minute to think about the best boss you’ve had and compare that to the worst boss you’ve had. Can you remember what it felt like to work for each? You can likely remember the feeling of working for each clearly. But can you identify the qualities that made the leader good or bad?
It’s important to be aware of bad leadership qualities when you see them as this will help you define your relationship with your own boss and improve your personal leadership qualities.
Table of Contents
12 Bad Leadership Qualities
These are 12 bad leadership qualities to be aware of.
1. Conflict Avoidance
Whether it’s between department heads or team members, dealing directly and decisively with conflict is essential. By not dealing with it or just hoping that it will go away, a bad leader is just letting the situation fester. They will still have to deal with it, but by the time they do it will have morphed from a small conflict into a serious situation.
Good leaders know that they can’t make everyone happy and that making these hard decisions is in their job description.
2. Lack of Flexibility
Long gone are the days when you could adopt one management style for your whole career. Good leaders know when and how to adapt their management style. They also know their team members and understand how to motivate them individually. In today’s world, nothing says bad leadership more than an unwavering authoritarian boss.
3. My-Way-or-the-Highway Mindset
People like to think that they came into their leadership position due to their knowledge and expertise. While that may be true, it can lead to arrogance and inflexibility. Part of being a leader is inspiring the team to greater things. Unless they have the autonomy to work out problems on their own and, yes, even make mistakes, they won’t stay motivated.
4. Rationalizing Poor or Unethical Conduct
It doesn’t matter how smart or talented a leader is; if they rationalize bad behavior from themselves or others, they are doomed to failure. It’s an easy thing to fall into, but rationalizing unethical business practices because of some short-term gain always catches up with them.
5. Lack of a Track Record
Success breeds success. While past performance isn’t a guarantee of future success, the fact is that hiring someone who has a proven track record of success is less risky than hiring someone who doesn’t.
6. Inability to Create or Conform to a Company Culture
Creating the right company culture serves to empower and uplift teams. It has company-wide implications, and if not embraced and utilized by the leader, there will be a negative effect on ROI.
7. Poor Communication Skills
Leaders need to be able to effectively communicate in a variety of ways and with a variety of people. A person with poor communication skills cannot effectively share the company’s goals, mission or strategy to achieve them. Being able to communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing, is a must for any leader.
Besides being miserable to be around, self-centered people make poor leaders. If a leader is self-centered, they will take credit for the successes and place blame for the failures. Eventually this leads to staff becoming demoralized and the business failing.
The Rotary Club has a saying: Service Above Self, coined by Rotarian Arthur Frederick Sheldon. This means that “only the science of right conduct toward others pays. Business is the science of human services. He profits most who serves his fellows best.”
This can take many forms. A team needs to be able to predict what the boss wants in order to have any kind of autonomy doing their jobs. Without it, they will be forced into a system of micromanagement. Having to okay every decision for fear of reprisal is a failure of leadership.
Additionally, employees need a sense of stability in order to feel safe. If employees know that the boss’s reaction to bad news is dependent on their mood that day, it can stop the flow of vital information. It also means that they will constantly be walking on eggshells around that boss.
Finally, people who say or do things without thinking first make very poor leaders. The bottom line is that sending mixed signals is one of the bad leadership qualities that will doom a business to failure.
10. Not Forward-Thinking
Being satisfied with the status quo is never a good thing for a leader. It signifies that they are more concerned about surviving than growing and thriving. Good leaders are forward-thinking and keep their businesses at “the tip of the spear” of change and innovation.
Good leaders know just how much they don’t know. They have no desire to be right or even be the smartest person in the room. Good leaders know who and when to ask for advice.
Know-it-alls, on the other hand, rarely take advice or even input from anyone other than a superior. They do not take advantage of the huge amount knowledge and talent that’s available to them.
12. Not Focused on the Customer
A leader must be focused on the customer. They need to know exactly who they are serving, what their needs are, and how the company can work to fulfill those needs better than the competition. If the leader in your organization isn’t focusing on the customer, you can be assured that there’s a leader from a competitor that is.
Why People Stay With a Bad Leader
When you have a bad leader, the simple solution is to just quit and find another job, but it’s rarely as simple as that. People stay in stressful and unhealthy relationships all the time; the work relationship is no different. But why do they stay?
There are a myriad of reasons people stay working for a bad leader, but they are mostly tied to basic human psychological dynamics.
Feeling Emotionally Drained
When dealing with a high stress situation day after day, it becomes emotionally draining. They may want to find something else, but they just don’t have the energy to do it. It’s also not a good idea to quit a job without having another job lined up. However, it’s hard to get another job lined up when you’re emotionally exhausted all the time. Stressful work environments can also make it hard to envision more positive situations that may be out there.
Not wanting to give up something that you already have is another reason people stay with a bad leader. The thinking goes like this: “He/She is a lousy boss, but this might be the best job I can get.” In psychological terms, it’s a concept called “Loss Aversion.”
Love for the Job
Some people stay because they really love the job even though they hate the boss. The work is highly meaningful to them and gives them a sense of purpose and emotional satisfaction.
Hope of Change
Finally, there’s always that hope that the boss might change their ways. It rarely happens, but there’s still hope.
How to Deal with Bad Leadership
If quitting is not an option, there are some strategies you can use to deal more effectively with a bad leader. While the exact strategy to use depends on the specific bad leadership qualities of your boss, we do have some good general recommendations.
Identify the Motivation
The first thing you want to do is observe. You want to identify your boss’s triggers and motivations. What is important to them?
Keep in mind that they may not be aware of their own motivations, but if you are observant, you can make reasonable assumptions on the following:
- Are they worried about how they look to their colleagues or superiors?
- What (if anything) seems to make them happy?
- How do they measure success in themselves and others?
- What do they care about most?
- What frightens them?
By understanding a leader’s personality, motivations, and triggers, you can frame your interactions accordingly. For example, when presenting an idea to a leader who is a know-it-all, try to give them a way to “share” in the credit.
Instead of saying, “I think we could save money by changing how we do X and instead do Y,” you’d be better off phrasing it this way: “Hey, I’d like to get your opinion. Do you think we could save money on X if we change it to Y?” This will give them an out, and in their mind, they can take (at least partial) credit for the idea, so it is more likely to be implemented.
It can be tempting to try to “even the score” by working slowly, taking extra days off, or abusing mental health and sick days. However, all that does is make the situation worse. You need to have good working relationships with your coworkers as well as other leaders within the company.
You also don’t want to let it affect your work. Keep the quality of your work high. Unless you have another job lined up, you don’t want to lose this one.
Try to anticipate the leader’s wants, needs, and expectations. By doing this, you can stay one step ahead of them. This is especially helpful if your boss is a micromanager.
Good communication skills are a must for any organization. Unfortunately, one of the most common bad leadership qualities is poor communication skills. Instead of relying on a leader with poor communication skills, you need to take control of the situation.
There’s a tried and true method to when trying to get clarity from someone. Simply repeat back to them what they said and have them listen. “Okay, this is what I heard you say. Is that what you meant?”
If it is, you have achieved clarity; if it isn’t, it gives them a chance to explain further.
This technique works well when you are assigned a new or different task as well as when handling disputes with the boss.
Take Care of Yourself
Poor leadership and bad bosses make for a stressful and exhausting workday. Don’t let it damage your physical or mental health. Do the following to take care of yourself.
Get Plenty of Exercise
One of the best ways to reduce stress is through exercise. It not only reduces stress, but it also keeps you healthy and away from the more harmful ways to reduce stress, like drinking, smoking, and drug use.
Keep a Healthy Diet
A high-stress work environment will take its own toll on your body. Stress is a known factor in both heart disease and stroke. Minimize these risks by maintaining a healthy diet.
Have a Support System
Having someone you can talk to is important any time you are in a stressful situation. Being able to vent and talk with someone always helps. You can bounce ideas off them, and they may give you advice or a perspective you haven’t considered.
Get Enough Sleep
The connection between quality sleep and heart health has been well established for some time now. However, our understanding of the interaction or cause and effect has evolved over time. It is now believed that poor quality sleep contributes to things like coronary artery disease, peripheral arterial disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, and heart attack.
In an ideal world, we would all have good, competent leaders and managers, ones who uplifted us, helped us succeed, and made us feel valued. However, studies have shown that “75% of Americans say their boss is the most stressful part of their workday.”
It’s obvious, then, that this is a very common phenomenon and one that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Your best bet is to learn how to deal effectively with bad leadership until either you or they leave. Regardless, always keep in mind that a job is never worth your health or family relationships.
Featured photo credit: You X Ventures via unsplash.com
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